Cast: Neena Gupta, Gajraj Rao, Ayushmann Khurrana, Surekha Sekri, Sanya Malhotra, Sheeba Chaddha, Shardul Rana
Director: Amit Ravindernath Sharma
How often have you watched a movie about a middle class family living in a cramped flat and wanted to move in with them, if not forever then at least for your summer holidays?
I can’t recall any except, perhaps, the house of Dolly and Biji in Vicky Donor.
But now Badhaai Ho, by director Amit Ravindernath Sharma along with two writers — Shantanu Srivastava and Akshat Ghildial — gives us the “Kaushiks”, a family of five that is so real and warm that I hope they keep coming back every year.
The film’s story, born out of every child’s loudly announced disgust and discomfort at even the stray thought of mummy-daddy doing the dirty thing, i.e. SEX, is both believable and very funny.
The film’s giggles are pivoted on an icky situation — a middle-aged couple, with grown sons, one of whom is working, announces that they are expecting their third child — and the incredibly stupid, but entirely understandable reaction of all those around them. Badhaai Ho makes us laugh at the discomfiture of the couple, the bristling but pointless frustration of their kids and others, while making us root for the freedom of couples to make their own choices, and keeping the Kaushiks together.
This connect with the Kaushiks is partly because of the writing, but mostly because the film is blessed, really, by a cast that looks lived in — as if director Sharma just moved his camera crew to the house of Kaushiks and handed over each member their lines.
Luckily, just as the film is invested in these characters and their stories, all the actors, but especially Neena Gupta, Gajraj Rao, Ayushmann Khurrana and Surekha Sekri, inhabit their characters with instinctive compassion and understanding, giving each one humanity and a soul.
Badhaai Ho is a warm, twinkling gem set in a colony of low income group flats that are stacked together tightly to face, in unison, a narrow lane and a strip of green.
Jeetendra, or Jeetu (Gajraj Rao), who is a TT with Bharatiya Rail, is married to Priyamvada, or Babli (Neena Gupta). They have two sons — Nakul (Ayushmann Khurrana), who works at an IT firm, along with his girlfriend Renee (Sanya Malhotra), and Gullar (Shardul Rana), who is in senior secondary school.
On the divan in their living room rests Dadi (Surekha Sekri). She’s aged but hasn’t lost her mother-in-law sting despite faulty hearing.
Their house, where there isn’t enough space to give even one door the space to swing open — all are split into two — we see how all of them take care of each other, bond, irritate, assist and also negotiate some moments of solitude.
One night Jeetu, who writes poetry under the penname “Vyakul” (Uneasy) and waits for them to be printed, sits with Babli on their double-bed, and reads out his latest.
But that night it rains and well, boing!
“Badhaai ho!” screams the old Dr Bagga, smiling appreciatively at Jeetu, while his doctor wife casts a sharply disapproving eye on him.
Here on Badhaai Ho is the story of a couple who steal brief moments of intimacy for themselves, and to power their household. Jeetu, in his quietly affectionate manner, protects Babli from his mother’s barbs, while Babli, despite tears rolling down her cheeks everytime her maika is dissed, takes care of Dadi as her own.
In between Badhaai Ho takes flight to the very elegant and sprawling house of Renee to meet her mother (Sheeba Chaddha). Here everything screams out “I’m classy” and the film holds its breath here, as if its exhalation would offend the posh.
As the story unfolds, Badhaai Ho’s focus is not on the conflict, but on how families reconcile with differences, adjust around and accept each other’s decisions, personalities, opinions and tantrums. It’s about how strong and nourishing the bonds are in those small homes are where Daddyjis stand by and love Mummyjis.
Badhaai Ho is written and directed with self-assurance and confidence. It doesn’t feel the need to pause to sell us even its funniest moments. Just like in any routine family interaction, these are asides that sparkle and then pass.
All characters are well etched out, except those of Sheeba Chaddha and Sanya Malhotra. These are built with filmy clichés, and though both of them are good, there wasn’t much room for them to play. They deserved better.
But I can’t say enough how excellent Neena Gupta, Gajraj Rao, Ayushmann Khurrana and Surekha Sekri are, but I’m going to try.
Khurrana, who has come to embody a slightly-confused-but-mostly-good middle class boy, is able to keep all of his characters distinct and memorable. He barely changes his looks, and yet his Nakul here is not Prem Prakash Tiwari of Dum Laga Ke Haisha.
Often, actors become boring when they play the same character over and over. That’s mostly because they use mannerisms to build that character, essay those roles. Khurrana is one of those rare actors who uses subtle changes in his body language and diction to keep it all fresh, distinct.
I have been a fan of Neena Gupta since she was a secretary in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. And my love for her grew with every character she played, from the TV series Khandaan and Saans to Shyam Benegal’s Mandi.
Neena Gupta has a screen presence much like Smita Patil’s — they don’t just create a character on the outside, but invest it with an inner cosmos that communicates with the audience, making them compelling and attractive.
It’s a shame really that Bollywood can’t come up with roles that match her calibre and brilliance. I hope Badhaai Ho changes that.
Whoever cast Gajraj Rao in the role of Jeetu deserves a special treat. It’s an intelligent, inspired choice, and he plays it with such cute kindness and care that I wanted to hug him.
His Jeetu, who sometimes brings home aam ki pettis and talks to his son’s girlfriend in English, is the kind of man whose humanity is deeply touching and unforgettable.
Surekha Sekri is and has always been a powerhouse who can own a scene while doing very little. Here too she gives the movie an end that will make you bawl.
Watching all of them together felt like I had walked into an acting master class.
I tip my hat to them....